No matter how many times you read and re-read your story, there are errors that will get by you and things that will be lost by simply releasing them from your own head. This is just one of those universal truths about writing, and unfortunately, it’s hard to remove yourself from your own headspace, which is why I think its important to have at least one person read the current version of your story and give you feedback.
This serves many purposes, all of which will help you out tremendously. Here are just a few:
- They will find grammar errors that your brain has auto-corrected every single time you’ve read through it. I guarantee it.
- The absolutely dumb amount of typos I make and then don’t recognize is staggering. ‘Of’ for ‘on,’ ‘it’ for ‘that,’ ‘the’ repeated…the list goes on.
- They will point out what you thought were familiar situations/concepts as being not quite as universally commonplace as you thought.
- I thought the concept of students getting “dispersed” was universal. My wife had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned this in Iterate, and even left a comment saying it was unrealistic. (It’s when your teacher is absent and the school couldn’t get a substitute in time, so they go around placing kids in different classrooms for the day).
- You will learn some of your strengths and weaknesses, if you don’t already know them.
- There are so many different ways to tell a story, and while none of them are necessarily wrong, there are ways that will be better received by your audience. It’s important to be open to constructive criticism, but to stand firm on things that are important to you. I am very much a “show, don’t tell” writer, while my wife prefers elaborate descriptions, and many of her notes to me were “describe this” or “what does she look like?” Sometimes, I acknowledged her comments and added in relevant descriptors, and others, I planted my flag firmly in “show, don’t tell.” Your style is not wrong, and it’s not right; it’s yours.
- If your story is very dependent on in-universe rules, they’ll probably catch a plot hole or two. Hopefully if this applies to you, they’ll be pretty minor and easy enough to fix.
Make a copy of your novel in Google Docs of Office Online, share it with your reader(s), and make sure they have the rights to edit/leave comments. Don’t rush them; give the space and time they need to work on it, as they are doing you a huge favor, and you need to take a break regardless. Hopefully I don’t have to go into detail about social etiquette and how often is too often to prod them for a status update, but please use your best judgment. Just remember that you preferably want two or three weeks away from your story anyway. Taking this time off is vital, and I promise it will become apparent how much clarity you will gain from it when you get to your next round of editing.
Now, if you’re here for the pep-talk, settle in (and if you’re not, you can go ahead and skip to the next post in the series). I know it can be hard to let someone else read your work in the first place, much less have them do it for the purpose of pointing out potential flaws. I had a writing blog for years that I told very few people about, quite frankly because I was scared to. Writing is personal, no matter the content, and putting that part of yourself out into the world is difficult for certain personalities – mine most definitely included.
I did not grow up in the world of hyper-sharing that has existed over the past 10 or so years, so while we communicated as kids, it was mostly over AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) or other messengers. There was no easy, indirect way for 15-year-old me to tell my friends “hey, I wrote this thing!” These days, I just go on Twitter and 280 characters later, everyone knows what I’m up to. But heck, even when blogs became popular (which I did in lieu of LiveJournal/MySpace), I still didn’t really share my interest in writing, except for, you know, writing about my life. If that sounds ridiculous to you, trust me, I’m aware. I suppose I mentally drew this weird line in the sand between fiction and nonfiction writing, and I have to imagine others out there have done the same.
So, if you are reading this, and you have any kind of hang up about sharing your work, trust me, you’re not alone. However, there’s no magic thing I can say to make it easier. You just have to do it. No one that cares about you will make fun of anything you pour your heart into. Heck, these days, it’s so easy to share in an offhand and indirect manner that a simple Tweet could do the trick – “I’ve been writing a lot in my spare time, check out this short story.” Anyone that wants to start a conversation about it with you will, and everyone that doesn’t care will ignore it. It’s an easy way to weed out people who you can directly interact with about your writing.
It has been around a decade since I started sharing my (fiction) writing with others, and if you haven’t guessed yet, I clearly don’t think too much of it anymore. I know there are people who don’t care about my writing, and that’s fine. I also know that there are people who care, but don’t like my subject matter, and that’s fine too. You can’t please everyone, and that’s why I’ve mentioned that it is important first and foremost for you to be happy with your work. For context, remember that while there are people who absolutely love your favorite band, there are people who can’t stand them. Take everything in stride, and remember that writing is an art, and art is subjective.
All of this said, I’d highly recommend not skipping this step, but if you don’t have anyone to read over your work, put it aside for a few weeks. The next time you read through it, you’ll be focusing on the bullet points above.